Book Club Pick: The River of Doubt

This past October, the Barista’s Book Club voyaged from the Plaza Branch to the darkest heart of South America via The River of Doubt, a fascinating account of Theodore Roosevelt’s exploration of the Amazon River.

This book not only offers a riveting characterization of Roosevelt, it evokes the mysterious untamed beauty of the Amazon Rainforest in the early 1900s.

Kansas City-based author Candice Millard's description of the Amazon is mesmerizing in its historical and geographical detail.  You feel transported to this incredible place with its endless amounts of rain and thick, almost impenetrable foliage, in which the most interesting inhabitants thrive. Millard describes flesh-eating piranhas, wild monkeys, deadly snakes, endless species of insects and unbelievably primitive indigenous Indian tribes, who wear little to no clothing, shoot poisonous arrows and practice cannibalism.

This is the stage upon which Roosevelt enters to trek down the never-before-explored River of Doubt with his son Kermit and legendary Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon. Millard ensures we are well-versed on the fearless, impetuous personality of Roosevelt, who willed himself to overcome asthma as a child and gives his re-election speech in the bloody shirt in which he was shot while campaigning as part of the Progressive party. 

However, despite his uncanny ability to persevere against the most unlikely odds, Roosevelt seems no match for the travails that await him in the Amazon Rainforest. He was ill-equipped by the time he arrived at the River of Doubt, due to a lack of supplies, and he embarked on this journey in crude homemade boats. 

We know that Roosevelt survives the journey, but the question is how.  This suspense invigorates the story as Millard weaves us through the rainforest and down the river with Roosevelt and company as they lose boats and supplies, endure hunger, insects, Malaria, Indian threat, and more.  Roosevelt almost dies of an infection but pulls through and puts the River of Doubt on the map.

Members of the Plaza Barista’s Book Club were dumbfounded that Roosevelt would embark on such a dangerous journey, given all the dangers that Millard describes.  All agreed this was an incredibly well-written account of the South American Rain Forest and of a president whose life offers a grab bag of extraordinary events.

About the Author

Sherida Harris is a library technical assistant at the Plaza Branch. To join the Barista’s Book club, e-mail her at or call 816.701.3481. The club's next selection is Day After Night by Anita Diamant.